Red Tractor faces ‘existential crisis’ unless trust rebuilt

Farm assurance body Red Tractor is at risk of an “existential crisis” if trust is not rebuilt, according to consultants Campbell Tickell in their review of the organisation’s governance, just published.

The Campbell Tickell report points to widespread dissatisfaction with Red Tractor amongst grassroots farmers, but concluded that management structures are “sound, albeit complex”.

See also: Red Tractor calls temporary halt to Greener Farms Commitment

It says that, after one of its targeted surveys was leaked, it received over 2,200 unsolicited responses from farmers which were “almost entirely negative”.

The review was commissioned by the NFU in response to farmer discontent following the botched attempt to introduce a standalone environmental module – the so-called Greener Farms Commitment.

While Campbell Tickell found Red Tractor’s governance to be fundamentally sound, there was certainly room for improvement.

In particular, it noted that drawing membership of both the board and the various sector committees from across the whole food supply chain meant they had “not been able to deliver consensus” and were unable to deal with the current challenges.


While some of these issues would have to be dealt with by the second, broader review of farm assurance about to get under way, Campbell Tickell did make a number of “interim” recommendations.

These include:

  • Create and publish a governance handbook, to provide more clarity about roles and responsibilities
  • Introduce a formal appraisal for board and committee members, to foster a culture of continuous improvement
  • Develop and adopt a board member code of conduct, to reinforce their legal duties
  • Introduce more training, to improve overall communications.


Responding to the review, Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon welcomed the fact that “no procedural breaches” had been found.

However, she acknowledged that there was still a level of frustration amongst farmers.

“We need to listen carefully to their views and will also continue to increase our efforts and investment in communicating Red Tractor’s purpose and benefits to farmer members,” she said.

One farmer, who also sits on one of the sector committees, was far from satisfied, however.

“The issue we face most acutely today is that senior executives have taken the results of the Campbell Tickell report as a complete clean bill of health; that they’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

The report basically says the correct procedures were in place to develop the Greener Farms Commitment, even though the sector boards were circumnavigated and had no say over the set of commitments that were developed.

“A bit of humility right now would go an awful long way, but I don’t think we’re going to get it.”

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said he welcomed the findings of the review, in particular that devolved policy and practice needs to be more explicitly recognised and embedded within the governance structures.

“We also believe that the proposed Greener Farms Commitment, as currently devised, needs a complete rethink in partnership with the farming community, fully recognising the policy and regulatory environments across the devolved administrations,” he added.